5 ways accounting firms are trying to integrate cloud with services

We’re all aware there is a continuum of where different firms are in terms of cloud adoption, but it is an evolving picture. What’s struck me this year is a greater sense of clarity from certain firms about how their business is evolving to take advantage of the opportunities. But this is still the minority.

But before we start looking at how we can get clarity on our own direction, let’s take a look at some of the ways accounting firms are integrating cloud tech into their service offering so far:

#1 Choice is enough

The opportunities of being able to offer cloud tech and productivity products are enough in themselves to make a positive difference to clients. A lack of absolute strategy means that these firms are often deploying where they see it is appropriate for specific clients.

There are no plans to coordinate any concerted sales energy, and the service opportunity is pretty much unchanged. This is either choice, a holding pattern, or thinking hasn’t progressed further as yet.

#2 All clients on board

The basic service proposition is based upon clients taking on a cloud based service. These firms are either single provider focused, or choose to recommend the most appropriate for that particular client. This standardising on a cloud approach seems to be most prevalent with relatively new firms, or smaller firms in general (up to 10 staff or so). The anxiety that certain kinds of clients won’t use it or won’t like it, seems not to be such an issue, and may even act as an influence on what kinds of new business is won.

For those with an established client base the transition to new technology seems to take a while, but the common factor is that it is presented to clients in a positive, progressive and best practice way – after a while it is also one they have little choice in (unless they want to leave).

#3 It’s complicated, but we want to get there.

Not so much an approach, more of a situation -but applies to too many firms to leave out.

The complications often come where the will is strong but the energy for change is not.

Key influencing factors here are available head-space, low priority, not enough perceived demand, established systems in place and the usual.

What is becoming clearer though is that this is closely linked to having not enough clarity about what is trying to be achieved.

A collective understanding that “we must do something” is there but the raison d’etre is woolly. It feels hard to get beyond the desire to offer more advisory services, so the approach from there on tends to be piecemeal.

Added complications come because of practical considerations like being muti-site, having a very broad base of clients, service integration, and existing software agreements.

#4 New brand, new service, new approach

The answer for some firms recently has been to copy some of the successes had by contractor and freelancer focused firms and effectively run a lean, service driven, but entirely remote service. The principles of running large numbers of clients at scale online, with telephone and email support has been established for sometime among these kinds of practices. The advent of the awesome looking KPMG Small Business Accounting service, has definitely underlined the possibilities of working in such a way across the general SME market. Although only seen by some practitioners as a notional threat , I think there is much to be said for their ground up investment – and truly radical approach.

Indicative ways of responding to this has been to create separate ‘on rails’ brands sitting along side the traditional business. Providing clear service upgrade pathways, and a transitioning route as clients grow. Small in number but it is an approach that makes sense.

#5 Intelligent service (r)evolution

Too much has been made in my view of having an either/or option of compliance factory (a term that should be banned) or advisory practice – both of which are very niche and while equally legitimate, doesn’t take fully on board the practical insight and support that a lot of businesses need.

The reality seems to be however that the technology fast becoming the standard is predicated on changing the relationship of clients with their financial affairs and those providing it. The key for change therefore is service.

Clarity around the service offering makes things easier to market, easier to buy, and clearer to deliver. New services don’t necessarily need creating, but the overall proposition must evolve.

For the slightly larger practices, and for those where a standalone business is not an option, looking at how cloud can be integrated provides tremendous opportunities, not least because of the available scale already in place but often because the range of expertise in specialist areas that could be deployed.

How to maximise this potential, fundamentally comes down to how services are best orchestrated to solve the challenges that clients have as well as those of the firm. Solving one without the other will get you part of the way there.

The approach that any firm can follow, is pretty straight forward – The headline questions are easy, the answers however take some working out.

Creating clarity:

Part one – establish the proposition

What client problems are you trying to solve, and why?
What firm problems are you trying to solve and why?
What does the service offering then need to be?
Remember also why market research matters

Part two – work out the practical

What workflows are needed to deliver it?
What technology do you need?
What resource must be allocated?

Part three – think the angles

What will the impact be on the way you work now? (Good, bad and ugly)
How are you going to roll it out?
Constantly remind yourself this is NOT an IT project.

Principle Point helps accountancy firms, their marketers and key technology partners with insight and intelligence for practical business development.

Contact us for more details.

2 Comments

  • Paul Bulpitt says:

    Great article. Bang on. A lack of strategy is absolutely the issue. Even with a strategy few have the bandwidth/headspace to execute properly.

    • Richard Sergeant says:

      Thanks Paul,

      Firm’s like yours certainly have the reputation for leading the way in this area. I’d enjoy talking more to you about the ups and downs of how you have made your model work!

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